"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How We Teach Science

Science is a subject taught in basic education. Unfortunately, science is sometimes taught in schools by nonscientists or teachers who have not received any training in science. Serious misconceptions in science can arise especially when it is taught in another subject like social studies. Frederick Edwords writes in the Creation Evolution Journal:
"The public should try to understand that mixing religion with science confuses students about the nature of both. They should be informed that there is no major controversy between scientists on creation and evolution, but that the controversy is mostly between scientists and nonscientists. And they should realize that if creation is to be given equal time with evolution, astrology should be given equal time with astronomy; astrology's following being equal to that of creationism, and the theory being equally outdated.

Though education should promote critical thinking, it should do so in an overall context of passing on factual information. Critical thinking is a tool, not the whole ball of educational wax. A debating society is not a school, and mere exposure to variant opinions is not education. The practical necessity of seeing to it that students are adequately prepared for possible careers in science should not be overlooked. The teaching of pseudo-science as science does not further this aim.
A learning module from the portal supported by the Vibal Foundation illustrates one example of disservice to students. The module, "Mga Unang Tao sa Daigdig" (The First Humans on Earth), takes full liberty in combining evolution and creation in one module.


In its introduction, the module's poor understanding of science is already evident.
Maraming haka-haka ang inihain ng iba’t ibang siyentista at pilosopo upang suriin at patunayan ang pinagmulan ng tao. Bawat isa ay may kaakibat na pananaw at paliwang. Tinawag na teorya ang mga haka-haka o hulang ito. (Translation: Numerous speculations have been offered by various scientists and philosophers to examine and prove the origin of man. Each one comes with its own perspective and explanation. These speculations and guesses are called theory.)
One should not write about a topic one is so clearly ignorant of. Later in the module, the following statement is made:
Alalahanin natin na nananatiling teorya ang teorya hangga’t hindi pa napatutunayan. Isa itong panukala ng mga siyentista na maaaring inimbento o may lohika na pagsusuri sa isang natural na penomena. (Translation: We must keep in mind that a theory remains a theory until it is proven. This is only a suggestion from scientist who may have just made it up or may have involved some logic while examining a natural phenomenon.)
The above provides a gross misinterpretation of science. It evidently fails in introducing to students what a scientific theory really is:
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. (You may read more on this topic in Scientific Theories Explain.)
There are other items on this module that are equally detrimental to the education of children in the Philippines. It is mind-boggling to see a social studies module using arguments coming from thermodynamics, DNA, and prescience beliefs.

The module does not come with any citations or references. The module does appear to be formed solely from opinions and not established human knowledge. One specific instance is its emphasis on human races. The module introduces three major races of mankind: Mongoloid, Caucasoid and Negroid. These distinctions are of course not properly informed by science yet the module claims that these are based on "theories". Science works from evidence and if only the writers of the module use vetted references, they would know. The title of the following article, in a peer-reviewed journal, for instance, informs us that these distinctions are incorrect.


One must really leave the teaching of science inside a subject of science and to those who actually have some knowledge in science. Learning modules need to be backed by established human knowledge and not just by someone's hallucination. Otherwise, children in the Philippines will be miseducated.



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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Technology and Learning How to Read

Children in the early elementary grades are asked to read regularly outside of school. There are reading logs sent home on which a child writes on a daily basis the title and author of a book read. Even in a karate class, a student can earn an attitude stripe by reading thirty minutes each day for about four weeks. Given the length of a school year, the books really add up. Thus, the internet serves as an additional resource and technology can provide more than just scanned images of a book.

With a digitized version, additional elements can be added to a book. Since technology can add so many things, it is useful to divide online books into two classes: multimedia and interactive.

Multimedia
Sound or music can be provided. Pages can become animated. Stories can be made multimedia. The additional element can be as simple as someone narrating the story. An example is shown below from Storyline Online:


I can definitely see the advantage of listening to a voice actress such as Mindy Sterling read a story. The background music also helps in setting the proper mood. Adding a roar likewise does not hurt. These extra nonverbal pieces of information may in fact aid a child's reading comprehension.

Interactive
Technology, however, may add even more. Stories can be made interactive. An example shown here is a page from Scholastic's Clifford Interactive StoryBooks:


With the above, a child can actually choose how a story goes. By choosing "log", for example, a log shows up beside the big red dog Clifford:


If a child clicks on "box" instead, then a box shows up beside Clifford:


Technology can indeed add quite a lot to a book. It does seem that technology can make reading more inviting. However, an important question remains: Does technology truly help a child learn to read? Answering this question specifically with the two types of online books in mind is likewise informative since this can guide what add-ons from technology helps a child learn to read.

A meta-analysis of published research addressing this issue is already available. In Benefits and Pitfalls of Multimedia and Interactive Features in Technology-Enhanced Storybooks: A Meta-Analysis by Takacs and coworkers, multimedia seem beneficial while interactive add-ons are detrimental. In the studies covered by this meta-analysis, the learning outcomes often measured to weigh the advantages or disadvantages of technology in storybooks are story comprehension, expressive and receptive vocabulary, code-related literacy skills, and engagement. The findings on story comprehension are summarized in the following graph:

Above copied from Zsofia K. Takacs, Elise K. Swart, and Adriana G. Bus
Benefits and Pitfalls of Multimedia and Interactive Features in Technology-Enhanced Storybooks: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research 0034654314566989, first published on January 27, 2015 doi:10.3102/0034654314566989

Online books that are interactive are of course multimedia so the effect alone of adding an interactive feature on a storybook cannot be observed. Nevertheless, it is clear that whatever advantage multimedia has over a book in print disappears or even negated when interactive features are added. The effects also seem larger with disadvantaged children (low socio-economic status).

There are smaller effects on expressive vocabulary but technology (neither multimedia nor multimedia plus interactive) actually offers no advantage on receptive vocabulary, code-related literacy skills, and engagement. The authors conclude that the addition of nonverbal information to story-telling may be allowing children to match verbal and nonverbal cues which help in story comprehension. On the other hand, interactive features may be adding considerable cognitive load which then prevents a child's mind to focus and understand the story. Thus, we are reminded of an old adage, Less is more....









Monday, March 2, 2015

Meaning and Content

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines posts the following on its Facebook page:

BS Aquino's Seven Deadly Sins!
“Teachers suffered severely under his term as President. Instead of addressing the backlogs and needs of the public education, he gave us K to 12 which will take down the teaching of our National language in college, mass lay off of educators, further developed our education to be subservient to the needs of foreign countries by focusing in producing semi-skilled graduates. We asked for higher wages, but gave us Results-based Performance Management System (RPMS) which will squeeze us to do more beyond our capacities and means and cut down our benefits through the introduction of P5,000 Performance-Based Bonus (PBB) in replacement of our P10,000 worth Performance Enhancement Incentive (PEI),” added Ms. France Castro, Secretary General, ACT.

The above statement and the image accompanying reminds me how a human mind not only reads what it sees but also infers what is implied. Making inferences seems a huge deal even in elementary schools where children spend quite some time reading fiction. Inferences depend a lot on one's experience. While it is true that inference is often taught with dependence on clues or data, arriving at more than one correct answer is often possible. Inference after all does not come with a full set of compelling evidence. In peer reviewed scientific literature, authors exercise caution in providing only what is in fact directly supported by data. Yet, as in any form of communication, there is content and there is meaning.

Kahan and coworkers have experimented, for instance, on how science is communicated affects reception by its readers. Climate change, the subject used in this study, can be introduced via two channels:
Channel 1 is focused on information content and is informed by the best available understandings of how to convey empirically sound evidence, the basis and significance of which are readily accessible to ordinary citizens (e.g., Gigerenzer 2000; Spiegelhalter, Pearson, and Short 2011). Channel 2 focuses on cultural meanings: the myriad cues—from group affinities and antipathies to positive and negative affective resonances to congenial or hostile narrative structures—that individuals unconsciously rely on to determine whether a particular stance toward a putative risk is consistent with their defining commitments. To be effective, science communication must successfully negotiate both channels. That is, in addition to furnishing individuals with valid and pertinent information about how the world works, it must avail itself of the cues necessary to assure individuals that assenting to that information will not estrange them from their communities (Kahan et al. 2006; Nisbet 2009).
This study concludes with the following:
Cultural commitments are intrinsic to human rationality. It is only through access to networks of trust and authority that human beings (experts as well as lay people) are able to form reliable assessments of whom to trust on what, and thus to accumulate and share collective knowledge. The distinct networks that various groups of citizens rely on usually lead them to converge on the best available information. Nevertheless, the sheer number and diversity of cultural communities that inhabit pluralistic democracies assures—almost with mathematical certainty—that risks and other policy-consequential facts will on occasion become suffused with antagonistic meanings, generating conflict that persists even in the face of ample and widely distributed scientific evidence. Although small in proportion to the number of complex scientific issues on which diverse citizens unremarkably (almost invisibly) reach agreement, these cultural meaning conflicts can pose a disproportionately large threat to the health, safety, and prosperity—and even to the deliberative capacity—of self-governing societies. Identifying how to protect the deliberation environment from this distinctive toxin, we submit, is the central mission of the science of science communication in a democratic society.
Returning to the post made by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, there is indeed certainty that the current administration in the Philippines has made several mistakes in basic education. There is enough evidence. In fact, these mistakes are glaring errors. These maybe even catastrophic. Sadly, delivering such content with images that force readers to infer beyond what is supported by data unfortunately brings the discussion into something personal. To claim a higher moral ground is often precarious as it elicits responses that are totally irrelevant to the information being provided. Making erroneous policies cannot be automatically equated to malice. The teachers are obviously frustrated, but one still must pause and reflect that in so doing, the argument may not win a proponent but only a more determined opponent....



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Research on Education and Teachers

"Education research is a pejorative, not a compliment" are words from teacher-blogger Jose Vilson as he goes through a list: "Multiple intelligences. Learning styles. Workshop model. Differentiation. The new math / everyday math. Now? Systems in place. Common Core. Data-driven instruction". Vilson is elaborating further on an interview described in a New York Times' article, "Are ‘Learning Styles’ a Symptom of Education’s Ills?" The bottom line seems, in Vilson's opinion, is a huge disconnect between education research and teachers. I have likewise heard the remark from teachers that what is usually published in research journals rarely applies to what happens inside the classroom. Several years ago, another teacher-blogger, John Spencer, wrote this piece, "I Don't Believe in Research":

Above copied from John Spencer
Art by Matt Connors
Commenting on this post, psychology professor Daniel Willingham wrote, "Clear understanding of what science can and can't do is crucial, I agree. Where it's applicable, I think it can help, but when it can't it's just a distraction, or it's used as a rhetorical device." A disconnect between education research and teachers obviously precludes any understanding of what science can and cannot do. The question is why is there a gap in education between research and its practitioners. One can just imagine the disaster if this is likewise happening in medicine. If a physician's practice is not informed by research on medicine and human health, confidence in any health care is going to be severely compromised. Yet, in education, according to Vilson, researchers and teachers still need to "sit at the same tables".

It maybe worthwhile to trace back and find where the gap originates. Similar to physicians, teachers go through formal education. For a connection between research and practice to be made, it must begin with the training of the practitioners. What happens in higher education is ultimately responsible for the training of any professional. With this in mind, one possible root of the gap between research and practice becomes vividly visible.

In a paper published in The Journal of Educational Research, Sylvester-Dacy and coworkers point out that in major textbooks used in teacher education, only 18 percent are based on good evidence research.


This is quite a discouraging and disturbing picture. The other sources are usually books or position papers, secondary sources that often propagate what is popular, anecdotal or trendy, and not what is based on evidence. Teachers are receiving education in a manner not different from learning about global climate from the US Senate:


If teachers are not given the opportunity to read primary sources, if teachers are not introduced to research on education, then what reaches the minds of teachers are now shaped by what is popular and trendy. Without experience in critical reading of primary literature, teachers are not going to be able to understand what "science can and cannot do". Furthermore, myths on education continue to linger. Worse, teachers like Jose Vilson begin to lose faith in research. The following paragraph from Vilson should really make us pause on what we are currently doing in our schools:
"Every time an initiative comes out, we’re subjected to another professional development session where the person in front of us, administrator or book-hustler, stands in front of us, lauding the latest and greatest. We shift in our seats, prepared to get another set of gobbledygook splayed across our already bloodshot eyes. PowerPoint presentations with tiny letters and business clip art help make convincing arguments for why this specific pedagogical trick will work for our students this time for real, for real. Unconvinced of its efficacy, teachers hope this goes away, and, when it doesn’t the first few times, start to implement the language without trying it to fidelity."
Keeping current teachers tuned to good research is important. Achieving this is of course easier said than done. In the meantime, solutions at higher education are perhaps more within reach. Teacher education must be informed by primary research. One cannot expect teachers to help our children think critically if teachers themselves are not provided the opportunity to do so.




Friday, February 27, 2015

"Education Experts" Lack Expertise?

Three years ago, when this blog started, retired professor Flor Lacanilao lamented over the media coverage of education policies. In A Critique of Some Commentaries on the Philippine K-12 Program, a stark contrast between who gets wide media coverage and who does not was highlighted. Lacanilao's exact words were "Note further that the nonscientist authors and cited authorities include prominent people in education, and that these nonscientist authors and cited authorities enjoy wide media coverage. I think this situation explains the present state of Philippine education." Lacanilao actually cited one of my articles as among those not receiving attention in spite of his opinion that what I wrote was supported by properly published studies. To establish expertise, Lacanilao was using an individual's record of research contribution as measured by how frequently one's publication had been cited by others. Such measurement, for instance, was reflected on the individual's Google Scholar record.

It turns out that Lacanilao's observations do not apply only to the Philippines. A similar predicament exists in the United States. Curriculum specialist Joel R. Malin and education professor Christopher Lubienski, both from University of Illinois, have authored a paper in the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives that suggests "...analyzing various indicators of expertise and media penetration, we find a weak relationship between expertise and media impact, but find significantly elevated media penetration for individuals working at a sub-sample of organizations promoting what we term “incentivist” education reforms, in spite of their generally lower levels of expertise...."

The following graphs taken from the paper show an inverse relation between expertise (as measured by Google Scholar) and media exposure:


Above figures copied from
MALIN, Joel R.; LUBIENSKI, Christopher. Educational Expertise, Advocacy, and Media Influence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, [S.l.], v. 23, p. 6, jan. 2015. ISSN 1068-2341. 

Malin also adds the following in a phys.org article that describes the above paper:

"Our findings suggest that individuals with less expertise can often have greater success in media penetration. Although some individuals might not have formal training in research methods for analyzing the issues about which they are speaking, they possess skills and orientations that make them accessible and appealing to the media. And when these people are affiliated with organizations that have strong media arms or outreach efforts, they have the support and the incentive to engage broader and policy audiences."
So when Lacanilao states that "this situation explains the present state of Philippine education", something similar may be said with regard to US education....





Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cooperation in Teaching

I served once in the College Executive Council at Georgetown and during one meeting, the dean noticed chalk marks on my clothes. The dean then expressed a feeling of satisfaction knowing that I was actually teaching that day. Teachers are supposed to teach after all. Attending meetings consumes one's time and takes away opportunities to do actual tasks. Meetings are important, however, if individuals are expected to work as a team. Thus, there is an obvious need to balance the two since efforts to work as a community may in fact impede an individual to do the more important task of actually teaching.

It is interesting to survey how much of the world's teachers in basic education actually work as a team. The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) provides a good starting point to answer this question. The following graph provides, for instance, an average picture of how a teacher spends his or her working hours per week:

Above copied from TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning.
DOI:10.1787/9789264196261-en
The above figure displays the time spent on each task averaged over all the countries participating in TALIS 2013. It is worth noting that there is a great deal of variation among countries and the following chart illustrates how two high-performing countries, Finland and Japan, in international exams are found at the opposite sides of the spectra:

Above copied from TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning. 
DOI:10.1787/9789264196261-en
Finland's teachers spend more time teaching than teachers in Japan. Finland's instructors spend about 65 percent of their time teaching. Japan, on the other hand, spends only 33 percent. For comparison, teachers in the United States spend about fifty percent (This number already takes into account the error in teaching times reported for US teachers, pointed out by Samuel Abrams of Columbia College) .

On tasks other than teaching, Finland's teachers spend the least amount of time. In team work, for example, Japan and Finland are truly on opposite sides. Finland spends 1.9 hours per week on team work while Japan spends twice as much, 3.9 hours. Teachers in the United States, on average, spend 3.0 hours. Looking at the survey at greater detail, while only one in five lower secondary education teachers in Japan do not participate in collaborative professional learning, nearly half of Finland's instructors do not. The United States reports less than 10 percent of teachers not participating in this type of activity. 

There would be no attempt to correlate the above with the actual test scores. One must keep in mind that there is a great deal of shadow education happening in Asian countries that score well in standardized exams. Thus, Japan may be spending less time in teaching but this only takes into account hours spent inside formal schools not in the "cram schools". A child in Japan, for example, easily spends an additional six hours a week in these tutorial classes. This additional instructional time brings the number of hours spent in teaching way above the number of hours from Finland. Furthermore, seeing that two countries that do well in the exams belong to opposite sides of these measures only implies that there is most probably no clear correlation between how much additional tasks a teacher takes and learning outcomes. The reason is simple. Cooperation in teaching may or may not benefit students. One could only imagine that team work only helps if the team is doing the right things for the students.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Science Night at an Elementary School

My five-year old daughter and I spent last evening at Mason Crest Elementary School. It was a family science night and the "museum without walls" of the Children's Science Center was inside the school's cafeteria. The evening started with a competition between two balls, "Rey Ricochet" and "The King Bouncer". It was the night to see which ball could bounce higher.


A bouncing ball competition was an opportunity to introduce to young minds polymers. It was a glimpse at how the structure at the molecular level could define properties of materials. There was even a model composed of eight kids (my daughter was representing one repeating unit of the polymer) to illustrate cross linking.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Does Differentiated Instruction Work?

I just received an email reminding me of the controversial commentary from James R. Delisle posted last month on Education Week. The title of Delisle's article is "Differentiation Doesn't Work". In this blog, I am posing it as a question instead. To answer such query, however, is not an easy task. Differentiated instruction is very complex as it involves assessment, planning and flexibility. All of these tasks hinge on the qualities of the teacher. A teacher who understands where his or her students stand is a good teacher. A teacher who tailors his or her lessons to maximize student's engagement is a good teacher. A teacher who can recognize that something is not working and needs to be adjusted is a good teacher.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is one of the pioneers of differentiated instruction. The Harvard Education Letter had a piece on differentiated instruction several years ago in which some of Tomlinson's views were highlighted:
While she would never say that differentiating instruction “is a piece of cake,” Tomlinson believes the approach is a path to more expert teaching. Like someone asked to make a meal, Tomlinson says, “You could have dinner with butter on toast with an egg. But if you want to grow as a cook, you need to expand your ingredients list.” Her four “non-negotiables”—a high-quality curriculum with clear goals, the use of data to monitor and provide feedback on student learning, the ability to recognize when something isn’t jelling and modify it to fit the student, and the creation of an environment in which students are supported and challenged—she says, “are not about differentiation. They are about a good classroom. That is good teaching.”
Differentiated instruction seems synonymous to good teaching. From the same article, a concrete experience from a teacher who is trying to differentiate is also cited:
Suddenly, “tiering”—or varying the difficulty of work for students based on readiness—had a twist: Kids didn’t like it when a classmate’s paper looked a lot different or had more problems on it. As she tried flexible grouping, students who seemed to need extra support actually “got it,” while those expected to glide would struggle. As Hauser put it in her write-up, “I quickly discovered that my assumptions were not always accurate.”
And the above is just the first step in differentiated instruction, understanding where the students stand. There is such a thing as incorrect assessment, and as in the above instance, wrong impressions on students can be made.  Doing the other steps requires even more from the teacher. To plan and to be able to change in the last minute definitely needs a good mastery of the subject and its pedagogy.

To appreciate how much should go into implementing differentiated instruction, the following list from Langa and Yost is quite helpful:

Content (Materials & elements)
  1. Select a variety of books and resource materials for handling variety in reading levels
  2. Select specific areas of interest within the focus area
  3. Use Learning contracts with students
  4. Group students according to readiness levels or interest levels
  5. Reteach to small groups who need support or explanations; exempt those who have mastered the material
  6. Establish learning centers or stations
  7. Allow students to work alone or with peers.
Process (how students gain understanding of main ideas and information)
  1. Use tiered activities (a series of related tasks of varying complexity)
  2. Use learning contracts based on readiness, interests, or learning profile of student
  3. Use independent learning
  4. Use choice boards, flexible grouping, reading buddies, learning centers and peer teaching
Products (ways students will demonstrate their knowledge or understanding of a topic)
  1. Write a story or a poem
  2. Write a book report, a play, or perform a play
  3. Debate or investigate an issue
  4. Design a model or a game
  5. Create a mural or a song
  6. Compare or contrast
Designing an experiment to evaluate its effectiveness is also very challenging because of the myriad of factors and its immense dependence on the quality of the instructor on how differentiation is implemented. Thus, it is not an easy task to find from research dependable experiments that measure the effectiveness of differentiated instruction.

More importantly, without doubt, differentiated instruction demands quite a lot from a teacher. The following excerpt copied from a guest post on a blog by a kindergarten teacher typifies one reaction a teacher may have with regard to differentiated instruction:



One teacher who started on something small, differentiated homework, finds "The results do not support the use of a differentiated homework structure for the acquisition of biology content or mastery of concepts." In primary schools in the Netherlands, a similar observation has been found: "Results showed that differentiated instruction has no statistically significant effect on student mathematics achievement, which was against expectations." These studies perhaps do not invalidate the differentiated instruction approach because one can always make the excuse that it is a failure of implementation.

However, one strong criticism comes from the very first step differentiated instruction requires. The article from the Harvard Education Letter also mentions:
But critics say differentiated instruction encourages teachers to categorize students based on popularized notions that may not actually be accurate or helpful in making content more accessible.
Daniel Willingham explains this more eloquently (also taken from the Harvard Education Letter):
“A lot of the time when we talk about differentiating instruction there is an implicit theory about the mind and the idea that different kids learn in different ways—and not only that, but that we have a deep enough understanding that we can then categorize kids on that basis. We assume that matching a teaching approach that plays to a kid’s strengths is the best way to teach. Or, should we work to attack areas of weakness? And how do we know if a teacher has correctly identified a child’s strengths? Differentiation sounds great, but on what basis are we differentiating? What do we know about this kid—and how do we know it?” 


Lastly, Greg Ashman made the following graph from PISA and TALIS data.

Above copied from Greg Ashman's Your own personal PISA - what does the TALIS show us?

This is simply a correlation, and it is weak, but is negative, that is, countries that perform well in PISA do less differentiated instruction. Obviously, it is not a solid proof that differentiated instruction does not work. But it also shows that there is no proof that it does.

Differentiated instruction taxes a great deal from a teacher. With the planning and management of different tasks or activities occurring inside a classroom, as Greg Ashman points, there are opportunity costs. If a teacher fails to do more compelling tasks (or even trivial ones, like collecting homework and helping a child organize), there is a price to pay for a teacher who spends more time on walking around the room just trying to keep the class in order during differentiated instruction.




Monday, February 23, 2015

Intelligent Tutoring Systems

What is inside a learner's mind can be very useful to an instructor. Knowing ahead of time misconceptions a student may have allows for a teacher to remediate effectively. Learning benefits from a responsive exchange between a teacher and a student. This is a distinct disadvantage in large classes where a teacher's knowledge of where each student stands is severely compromised. There are computer systems that are now available that are targeted to provide both student modeling as well as adaptive remediation. These are called intelligent tutoring systems.

An intelligent tutoring system (ITS) is not a simple computer based instructional system. Defining characteristics of an ITS have been recently compiled by Ma and coworkers:
An ITS is a computer system that for each student: 
1. Performs tutoring functions by (a) presenting information to be learned, (b) asking questions or assigning learning tasks, (c) providing feedback or hints, (d) answering questions posed by students, or (e) offering prompts to provoke cognitive, motivational or metacognitive change 
2. By computing inferences from student responses constructs either a persistent multidimensional model of the student’s psychological states (such as subject matter knowledge, learning strategies, motivations, or emotions) or locates the student’s current psychological state in a multidimensional domain model 
3. Uses the student modeling functions identified in point 2 to adapt one or more of the tutoring functions identified in point 1
With the above definition, Ma and coworkers then proceeded to do a meta-analysis of ITS to see how effective these systems really are, according to vetted published literature. The first important finding emphasizes the instructional method used to compare against ITS. ITS is effective, but such statement needs to be qualified. In terms of effects on learning outcomes, the following is observed:

Above graph drawn from data provided by Ma et al. 
What is displayed here is the effect size of ITS when compared to a specific instructional method. Effect sizes of about 0.3 to 0.5 are considered to be moderate. Clearly, ITS is much more effective than large classes, computer based instruction, and individual reading. The positive effects, however, are not present when ITS is compared to either small classes (less than or equal to 8 students per instructor) or tutoring. The above comparisons truly highlight what ITS is able to do - it can take the pulse of the student and adjust the lessons. Of course, this is likewise possible in small classes as well as individual tutoring sessions.

There are other detailed analysis presented by Ma and coworkers. One piece that catches my interest is the domain dependence of ITS. How effective ITS is appears to be dependent on the subject as shown in the following figure:

Above graph drawn from data provided by Ma et al.
Chemistry stands out with the smallest effect size for ITS. A deeper analysis of the data actually shows that humanities and the social sciences have much higher effect sizes than mathematics and the natural sciences....





Sunday, February 22, 2015

Asking a President to Resign and a Salary Raise

Teachers belonging to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines are scheduled for a sit-down strike this Tuesday, February 24, 2015. The strike reiterates the teachers' demand for a salary increase as mandated by law, Republic Act 4670 or the Magna Carta of Public School Teachers. The Salary Standardization Law likewise dictates that salaries of government workers which include teachers be adjusted every three years. No raises have been made since according to the president, the government simply has no funds for a pay hike.

Above copied from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers
Of course, ACT is quick to point out that the president however has funds for the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Both programs have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the Philippines. On top of the chief executive's refusal to grant salary increases, the recent massacre of police officers in Mamapasano, Maguindanao earns President Aquino III the title "Teachers' Enemy Number One".

The president does need to respond to quite a number of missteps his administration has made. This president after all is the main driving force behind the new K+12 curriculum of the Department of Education. Thus, at a time of great frustration, ACT is also asking the president to resign. It is not at all clear at this point, whether such resignation would lead to meeting the current demands basic education in the Philippines desperately needs. The constitution prescribes that in the case of a vacancy of the presidency, the duly elected vice president shall become president. Unfortunately, the current vice president is likewise not in a good light. There are presently serious questions raised regarding the vice president's unexplained wealth. ACT and other organizations are therefore suggesting a "transitional council" to act as caretaker before the country chooses in an election a new president and vice president. The current constitution of the Philippines does not have such a provision.

What the country really needs now is responsibility. It is really irrelevant to basic education who currently leads the government. In fact, it is only the president who could and must respond as a true leader to the needs of the country. The president is duly elected and has enough time during the remaining period of his term to begin solving the problems the country faces. A change in leadership does not guarantee that the right steps are going to be taken. Only responsibility can. The solutions can be reached within the confines of law. The solutions to the problem Philippine basic education faces do not require extraconstitutional measures. It merely requires a president who takes responsibility and acts based on evidence and not on whims.

A sit-down strike for just salaries is perhaps justified but as a call for a president to resign, that is stretching too much.